A Reset for Your Mind + Body
Have you ever wished you could go back in time to a when you felt more potential and promise? A time when you didn’t feel confined by limits — especially the limits that come with age?
Well here’s a little surprise for you. You can. How do I know this? Because in 1979 a very amazing study called the Counterclockwise Study was conducted.
In this study, eight men in their 80s lived at a retro-fitted retreat as if it was twenty years earlier. The control group consisted of eight other men, also in their 80s, who were asked to simply reminisce about their life in 1959. And as the researcher who led this study, Ellen Langer, often quips, “this was when 80 was 80 and not the new 60”.
When Langer, set out on this study she wasn’t quite sure what would happen. When she dropped the men off at the retro-fitted retreat most of the men were stooped over and their gait was more of a shuffle than a walk. A couple of the men were using canes. She was a bit dubious if the men were even self-sufficient enough to take their own luggage in. But they were told their bags were their responsibility —even if they had to bring their belongings in one item at a time.
For one week the eight men lived at the retro retreat. No mirrors or modern-day clothing were allowed. Any photos of the men were from pre-1959.
They watched movies, listened to music, and read copies of Sports Illustrated from the era. They talked about athletes like Johnny Unitas, Al Kaline, Sam Snead, and Wilt Chamberlain. They also discussed ‘current’ events like NASA’s launch of the Pioneer 4 Spacecraft.
And their conversations weren’t “back in the day” conversations, their conversations were as if the events were happening in the now.
The men in the study lived as though it was 1959, unlike the control group that simply reminisced about 1959.After one week the test subjects were evaluated and the differences between the living as if group versus the group that reminisced was nothing short of remarkable.
The men who lived as if it was twenty years earlier, as if it was 1959 all over again, experienced improvements in hearing, vision, memory, and strength. And when evaluated by people who knew nothing of the study these same men were evaluated as looking significantly younger than comparison years. And one more thing, when Langer went to pick them up at the end of the study, the men were playing touch football on the lawn.
What caused the positive shifts in these men? How could they look younger and have improvements in their strength, vision, hearing, and memory after just a week? The exact mechanism of change wasn’t identified, but to quote Langer, “Men who changed their perspective changed their bodies.” It was their mindset that shifted.
The design of the study required the men to live mindfully rather than mindlessly.When the men entered the retreat they existed within the societal constraints of what being aged 80 is supposed to be: weak, frail, and incapable. They mindlessly accepted those labels.
Then they lived for a week in the now of 1959. A time, in their mindset, that was marked by more potential and promise. And they had to live mindfully in order to stay in that now.
In doing this they were able to step out of the lies that had trapped them and into the truth of their able-ness, their strength, and their resilience. And the truth set them free.
“The more we realize that most of our views of ourselves, of others, and of presumed limits regarding our talents, our health, and our happiness were mindlessly accepted by us at an earlier time in our lives, the more we open up to the realization that these too can change. And all we need do to begin the process is to be mindful.” -Ellen Langer
Your mindset sets your trajectory. So what is your mind set upon? Is it set upon the limits you’ve accepted as your ‘truth’ or is it set upon embracing your fullest potential here and now? Is your mind set on living mindlessly or mindfully?
Langer defines being mindful as, “the act of simply noticing things”. Because when you notice things you’re able to encounter the world right here and now. You’re able to take in the moment with wonder and awe. The world becomes more alive. You become more alive. You’re present in the moment and the moment is where all potential and possibility lives.
“To be mindful is to be in the present, noticing all the wonders that we didn’t realize were right in front of us.” -Ellen Langer
Ellen Langer has stated that “Wherever you put the mind, the body will follow.” The men in the Counterclockwise study experienced shifts in their minds that created shifts in their bodies.
“There is always a step small enough from where we are to get us to where we want to be. If we take that small step, there's always another we can take, and eventually, a goal thought to be too far to reach becomes achievable.” -Ellen Langer
May you choose to live mindfully.
Professor Ellen Langer's new book, The Mindful Body, is now out. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/705365/the-mindful-body-by-ellen-j-langer/
For more information on Professor Ellen Langer and her work simply follow these links: https://www.ellenlanger.me and https://psychology.fas.harvard.edu/people/ellen-langer